An Open Letter To Political and Educational Leaders

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Before I begin, I’d like to state that I truly believe almost all teachers and administrators honestly want the best for their students. I cannot say “every” because I try not to deal in absolutes, but the vast majority of teachers and administrators with whom I’ve worked put the students first.

Educational leaders are in an impossible situation. They know that children need to be in school. It’s not a political responsibility, it’s not an economical responsibility, it’s simply a responsibility to the child’s well-being. Children need to grow socially, intellectually, and emotionally, and school is an exceptional place to do that. School is a place for children to exist independently from their parents or guardians and a place for them to find their own voice. Yet it is also a place filled with structure, routine, boundaries, and–perhaps most importantly–professional guidance.

However, school is impossible without teachers. We all seem to be forgetting that fact. Teachers are, right now, being asked to enter often poorly ventilated, overcrowded classrooms filled with children who are proven to carry the coronavirus. We are literally asking our teachers, many of whom are over forty years old, to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

I often hear the argument that grocery stores and doctors’ offices are open–schools can open, too. I think it’s important to remember that those are usually very well-ventilated environments with strict control over who and who cannot enter. If someone refuses to comply, they literally have a security force they can call upon. We took our child to the doctor the other day. We had to wait in the car until we got a text. Then, when the text came, we entered a side door, spoke to no one, and made our way directly to the patient’s room. We wore masks the entire time, as did the medical staff. It was an incredibly controlled, rigid system. My wife’s eye doctor even had a placard placed in her examination room stating the room is disinfected between patients.

Think back to your days in school. Do you really think children are going to stay six feet apart (even though most agree this will be impossible to accomplish in classrooms due to limited space and teachers). Do you really think schools are going to be able to force students to wear their masks correctly?

I’ve seen some plans where teachers are being told to wear a mask all day, disinfect desks between class periods, eat lunch with the same group of students in the classroom daily, prohibit shared material (like textbooks), stay six feet away from those students in the classroom (which will literally be impossible in many cases), enforce temperature regulation, and direct traffic in the hallways. This is on top of the daily lesson planning, teaching, grading, behavior management, parent contact, and meetings.

Furthermore, some schools are going all in, every student every day, while others are going half in-session and half remote learning. I have a child at the elementary level and then another child at the middle school level. The middle school is essentially going part-time, while the elementary level is going full time. Meanwhile, my place of work (a high school in a different district), is going all in, full time. This is an incredible burden on me both as a parent and as an employee. I’m being asked to leave my middle school child home alone for three days out of the week, find after school care for my elementary school child (which further bursts any already-lackluster bubble), and work full time in my own building. My middle school child is going to be isolated at home for many, many hours, which is dangerous at a physical, emotional, and social level, while my elementary child is unnecessarily being exposed to even more people. As a parent, I find this incredibly stressful.

If your child is next to a child who shows any of the numerous symptoms, your child is quarantined for several days. If your child’s teacher shows any of the symptoms, he or she is quarantined for several days. In some cases, an entire class could be quarantined for several days–perhaps as many as fourteen. This is all true for school buses as well. We are quickly going to run out of teachers, substitute teachers, and drivers. You’re going to be finding someone to watch your child as they keep getting quarantined when kids in their classes show symptoms. It’s going to get very chaotic, very quickly.

Though it’s not the popular solution, the most logical, rational, and safest decision is for all school districts to go 100% remote. Families can continue with whatever summer childcare they have in place, which will keep them within whatever bubble they’ve established. We can all start the school year off with a remote learning procedure in place. As it stands right now, schools meeting in-session will be doing so completely out of any previously proven routine, and will likely have to go remote within four to six weeks anyway. When that happens, many are going to be scrambling for childcare and trying to figure out remote learning anyway. Doesn’t it make more sense just to start off with 100% remote learning when we know it’s coming? Neither choice is easy–I understand that. There will be hardships even with 100% remote learning. This is obviously a case of choosing the lesser of two evils. Personally, I feel ensuring the physical health of our teachers and students must take priority.

As a nation, we have not done our part. As a nation, we’re not wearing masks, we’re not staying home, and we’re not establishing a bubble. People at my grocery store won’t even follow the arrows marked on the floor. We teach our students that behaviors have consequences. Guess what, America? 100% remote learning is the consequence of your behavior. Many have taken the necessary precautions, and it’s awful that those people must suffer the ramifications of those who haven’t been responsible.

Additionally, I fear this is further reinforcing the class divide. I hear more and more of my friends who are upper-middle class or upper class opting to keep their kids home in order to guarantee their safety. They will still have outdoor play dates, Facebook Messenger For Kids calls, trips to the park, and bicycle rides. Those parents, who are likely working remotely due to white collar, well-paying jobs, don’t have to think about it too hard. Meanwhile, lower-middle class families and low-income families don’t have a choice at all. If they don’t physically go to work, they don’t get paid. They literally cannot afford to do what they think is best for their kids–they have no choice in the matter. They will risk their lives, their children’s lives, and their extended families’ lives because they have to. This is the height of inequality.

It will take incredible bravery, morality, and willpower for school administrators to do the right thing and implement 100% remote learning at the start of the year. It will be incredibly hard. They will be ridiculed every step of the way. Many will question them at every opportunity. There will be several challenges, such as food distribution, guaranteeing WiFi, and providing services for those students with unique needs. However, in the long run, it will be what’s best for our children.

As for politicians, I suspect the most powerful of politicians never attended public school nor send their own children to public school, so they should stay out of it and let the experts–teachers and school administrators–work it out. I’m tired of politicians using our children as pawns in their political warfare and you should be, too. I was under the impression that they were here to serve us, but it seems to be just the opposite.

Crisis: My Short Story Of the Week

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“He’s dying, damn it, and he’s all alone!”

“Mom—he’s not alone.”

Holly looked at her nineteen-year-old daughter through narrowed eyes. She held her cell phone in both hands after hanging up with the hospital as she stood next to the kitchen island.

“He’s not alone? Abby, what are you talking about?” Holly demanded.

Just a few feet away, standing by the kitchen table, Abby put her own cell phone down and replied, “Dad’s not alone—you know that.”

“Really?” Holly seethed with her head tilted. “Who’s with him, then?”

Abby answered, “Jesus.”

Throwing her chin back, Holly groaned, “Christ almighty.”

After folding her arms, Abby declared, “Exactly.”

Holly stomped past her daughter before plopping down on the living room couch. With her elbows upon her knees, she dropped her head into her hands.

Abby did not move from her spot, nor did she unfold her arms. She questioned, “You know that, right?”

Holly murmured into her palms, “Yes, I know. But your father needs more than that. He needs us.”

Abby lifted her eyebrows just a bit as she asked, “He needs more than Jesus? Before the coma, when they kicked everyone out of the hospital, Dad texted me. He said he wasn’t afraid. He cited Psalm 23.”

Holly lifted her head up and stared at her daughter. “I really don’t want to hear about the valley of Death right now, okay?”

“Are you worried about him?” Abby asked.

“What’s the matter with you?” Holly spat. “Of course, I’m worried about him! The doctor said he’s not going to make it!”

“But Dad’s okay with that,” Abby said as she unfolded her arms and shrugged her shoulders. “He wants to go to Heaven. That’s what we all want, right?”

“God,” Holly mumbled. “You go off to college and become a theology expert …”

“No,” Abby answered a little coldly. “I’m not a theology expert; I’m just repeating everything you taught me. What’s the matter with you?”

Holly jumped from the couch, pointed at Abby, and screamed, “Your father is dying! My husband is dying—alone, in a coma, suffocating—and nobody cares! Our own daughter doesn’t care!”

Abby put her hands on her hips and took a deep breath. Once she had control, she said, “I care. I care very much. But you and Dad taught me to believe, to have faith, and to accept Christ into my heart. You taught me to do these things so we could one day reach Heaven and join Him in all His glory. Are you saying you don’t actually believe those things?”

Holly fell to her knees and began to cry. Between sobs, she said, “Those are just things we tell kids … children’s stories …”

Abby stood her ground. “That’s not true. Not to me. Not to Dad.”

Unable to meet her daughter’s eyes, Holly remained on her knees with her head hung low.

“I don’t understand you,” Abby confessed. “You were our youth group sponsor. We prayed together every dinner—every night before bed. You got me up every Sunday for church. I don’t …”

“Those things …” Holly began as she fought to stifle her tears, “… they were just the right thing to do. I wanted to raise you … right.”

With eyes widened, Abby asked, “Are you saying you never actually believed?”

Holly faced her daughter again. Tears ran down her cheeks and her throat hitched. As she started to answer, Abby interrupted her.

“Don’t,” Abby said. “Don’t say anything. You don’t have to answer.”

Abby moved toward her mother, dropped to her knees as well, and wrapped her arms around her.

The daughter placed her head atop the mother’s and squeezed tightly.

“You’re upset. No matter what, I know Jesus is sitting with Dad right now, holding his hand. And Dad knows it, too. He’s not afraid. He’s joyful.”

Holly whispered, “I hope you’re right.”

The two women remained on the floor, hugging one another, waiting for the call.


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Are You Checking Your Child’s Grades?

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Whether COVID-19 has sent your life into utter chaos or perhaps simply a bit of disarray, chances are you’re forgetting to check on your child’s grades. I urge you to do so regularly.

Most school districts have an online grade book that allows family access. I’m sure your elementary and middle school teachers have communicated with you how to take a look at your student’s assessments, but if not, get in touch and ask. It is absolutely your right to keep up with your child’s grades.

Most high school students know how to check their grades using an online grade book, but that doesn’t mean they actually are. I suspect many high school students are checking out or in denial. They need your support right now, and that support will probably feel like nagging. Most adults have felt like shutting down and hiding under the sheets at some point during all of this. Teenagers feel that way, too, but they may not have the capacity to actually get over that feeling. They need you cheering them on, urging them on, or nagging them–whatever works.

Most districts have adopted a “do no harm” policy. This basically means that schools are focused on improving each and every student’s grade. If your student is currently failing, most teachers will be very accommodating with helping that student improve. It could be in the form of making up missing work, doing work over again, or perhaps even excusing some work and treating it as a “no count.”

Whatever the case may be, it starts with you checking in. I know life might be crazy for you right now. I know it seems like you might not have time to do that. I know it seems like it’s the students’ responsibility to keep up with their grades, or the teachers’ responsibility to notify you of failing grades, but it’s yours as well.

The schools want your child to succeed, the teachers want your child to succeed, your child wants to succeed, and you want your child to succeed. Let’s all work together to make sure that success is achieved.

In This: My Short Story Of the Week

IN THIS

Dr. Timothy Walker tried to enter the grocery store on the wrong side. After a long day at work, he’d forgotten that they had recently established a designated “entrance” and “exit.”

As he walked along the storefront, he pulled out his cell phone and cued up the list his wife sent him. Thankfully, it wasn’t very long.

Once he grabbed a basket, Dr. Walker made his way to the produce. His kids were out of Honeycrisp apples—basically the only fruit they’d eat. Next, he made his way to the carrots, which, as you probably guessed, was their vegetable of choice.

The store had plenty of both. He wondered if he’d be so lucky in the toilet paper aisle.

Dr. Walker double-checked his screen for the next item. As he did so, he noticed a man walking toward him. They briefly made eye contact. Dr. Walker realized the stranger aimed to confront him.

But why? Dr. Walker still wore his surgical mask along with his scrubs—there’s no way anyone could recognize him. Could it be the mask? Dr. Walker noticed the man did not wear one. Perhaps he was desperate and planned to steal Dr. Walker’s.

Dr. Walker turned to face the man with his phone positioned upright at the waist and recording. If he was about to be attacked, he would be sure to collect evidence. His free hand balled into a fist. Something about the man’s intensity set him on edge.

When it seemed obvious the man did not intend to honor six feet of distance, Dr. Walker ordered, “Stop there.”

“What?” the man asked.

“Just, stop there, okay?”

The man said, “I want to say something to you.”

“Okay,” Dr. Walker replied. “Go ahead. Just, don’t get any closer, all right?”

“Yeah, okay. Yeah—you’re right. Sorry about that.”

Dr. Walker stared at the man from behind his surgical mask.

“I just wanted to thank you,” the man said.

“What?”

The man continued, saying, “Yeah, you know, you guys, you’re all out there, on the front lines, protecting us all—keeping us healthy, saving our lives. So, thank you.”

Dr. Walker stammered, “Er—You’re welcome. Of course. It’s just that—”

“No, no,” the man interrupted. “Don’t be humble. I know you’ll say you’re just doing your job. But you’re not just doing your job. You could have quit. You could have walked away. But you didn’t. All of you—all the doctors and nurses—you’re all putting your lives on the line for us. Thank you. Thank you all.”

The man’s eyes got misty at the conclusion of his statement.

“I … It’s an honor,” Dr. Walker said. “I should probably tell you, though—”

The man asked, “Can I shake your hand?”

“Absolutely not,” Dr. Walker replied.

“You’re right. That was dumb. Anyway, I’ll let you get back to shopping. Doc, if you ever need anything, you just ask, okay?”

Dr. Walker replied, “I need you to wear a mask, friend.”

“Yes! Yes, as soon as I get home, I’m going to make one. I saw a thing on YouTube about turning a jock strap into a mask.”

Dr. Walker said, “Oh, well, I don’t know about that. A tee shirt would work just as—”

“God bless you, doctor! Good luck. I’ll keep you all in my prayers!”

The man walked away. Dr. Walker watched him for a few moments. The man didn’t have a cart or a basket, he just collected items in his arms as he strolled along.

Dr. Walker continued shopping and, as fate would have it, found a mega-pack of toilet paper. It wouldn’t fit in his basket, though, so he had to wedge it between his left arm and his body as he made his way to the cash register.

As she rang him up, Dr. Walker made pleasantries with the woman behind the plexiglass. The young man bagging his groceries was far too close, but what could they do? They both wore masks, so Dr. Walker deemed it an acceptable risk.

“Doc, one last time—thank you, brother! You’re saving lives!”

Dr. Walker looked over to see the man from earlier walking by on his way to the self-checkout units. He couldn’t wave to Dr. Walker because his arms were full of groceries, so he tried to lift his chin higher and higher as he smiled.

Though the man couldn’t see it, Dr. Walker beamed from ear to ear while giving him the “thumbs-up” as he said, “We’re all in this together, my friend. Thank you for the love. Much appreciated.”

The cashier asked, “Are you a doctor?”

“Yes,” Dr. Walker replied.

“So, you’re, like, treating people with the Covid?”

“No,” Dr. Walker said. “I’m a podiatrist.”

“Yeah, but,” the bagger began, “that guy acted like you were in the thick of it, you know?”

“Yeah,” Dr. Walker confirmed. “I tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t let me finish. It was so heartfelt; I just decided to go with it.”

“But …” the woman began. She was too polite to finish her thought.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Dr. Walker chuckled. “I got the whole thing on video. I may not be on the front lines, but I have plenty of friends who are. That guy is going to make their day.”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.